Nintendo DS has had a good number of racing games, but off late the genre seemed to be running dry on this console. Sure there were some average racing games and even a Track Mania title to boast, but there was little to look forward to if you wanted a good old racing experience without some gimmicky features included.
Dirt 2 released on the Nintendo DS, right alongside its bigger, better home console brethren, which really puts the pressure on the game to stand out as a version worth checking out. The good part is that, the DS version really stands out as a great racer in its own way.
Firebrand Games, the guys who got GRID and Race Driver: Create & Race to the DS are back as developers, and just as the other 2 games, they did a fine job with Dirt 2 as well. With the new angle taken by the franchise, Dirt sways more towards arcade racing than simulation, which may upset purists, but will definitely make the game more popular.
You have a limited but good selection of cars through the career mode, which can range from bajas to the stocked up rally cars. With each car you have a few upgrade and customization options. In customization you are only limited to a paint job and selection of 4 decals. You can create your own decals through a simple paint-like interface that we've seen in so many DS games before, but no matter what you do, its unlikely your car will look better than its stock version.
You have four upgrade options, namely — engine, handling, tyres and the weight of the car. It's not much and there are no brand names to select from, but it's good enough to get you to check out these options before every race. Of course, you also have the option of buying new cars once you feel that the old guzzler doesn't have much of a kick left in it, but don't be disappointed with the small selection. Chances are you may not even get to experience all the cars in a single career play-through.
In career mode, the majority of the races consist of the traditional sprints and circuits, but there are some stunt tracks thrown in every now and then to keep the gameplay fresh. Unfortunately there isn't much explanation provided for these bonus races, so you may need to go through them a couple of times before realizing what you're supposed to achieve and how you can do it. A demonstration video would have gone a long way here.
Graphically, Dirt 2 is not too different from most other racing games available on the platform today. The racing engine is great and flexible to a great extent but it does tend to look flat at times, during the complex turns, which is a general problem with racing games on the Nintendo DS. Still, the stock detailing on the cars and a good variety of open environments, make this a good looking racer.
Dirt 2 is a lot of fun in the multiplayer mode, and what makes the experience better is the option for track creation. You can share your created tracks with friends nearby and even compete with them on these custom tracks. Internet play would have added a lot more to the experience, but for some strange reason, the developers decided not to include that in the game.
If you already own the home console version of Dirt 2, there'll be little to keep you interested in this version of the game. That said, if you're looking for a fun racing game on the DS that's easy on the stats and a great option for pick-up-and-play, then this one is it.